Year 1918

The situation at the fronts in 1918.

German infantry marches for Operation Michael

German infantry marches for Operation Michael to the Western Front.

With the end of fighting on the Eastern Front in December 1917 and the Italians still psychologically reeling from the Caporetto ‘Catastrophe’, Germany’s de facto supreme commander, General Erich Ludendorff (his official title was ‘First Quartermaster General’), had a breathing space to devote all his organizational and tactical skills to the problem of the stalemated Western Front.
He calculated that the American Army would be unable to intervene decisively in France before the early summer of 1918: It seemed to Ludendorff, therefore, that Germany could take no other course but to transfer divisions from Russia to the West and, by exploiting her temporary superiority in the field, achieve a decisive victory over Britain and France before the Americans began to arrive en masse – Germany’s last hope of winning the greatest conflict in history so far.

After prolonged discussion and disagreement, Ludendorff rather belatedly reached a decision to direct the main weight of his grand offensive on the British-held St Quentin (Somme) sector (code name ‘Operation Michael’). The aim was to drive west between Peronne and Arras towards the Channel coast. ‘If this blow succeeded, the strategic result might indeed be enormous, as we should separate the bulk of the English army from the French and crowd it up with its back to the sea…’ (My War Memories 1914-1918 by Erich Ludendorff).

The ambitious plan depended for success on the maximum exploitation of the novel’ storm troop’ tactics evolved in Russia (notably by General Hutier and artillery Colonel Bruchmueller) and first employed at Riga. These specially trained formations – armed with light machine-guns, rifles, flamethrowers, mortars and a sprinkling of field guns – had orders to infiltrate as fast as their legs could carry them, bypassing Allied strongpoints. In a reversal of accepted tactical doctrine, reserves would be put in where the attack was progressing, not where it was held up.

Special artillery tactics involved a crushing short bombard­ment of a fews hours’ duration using a 4:1 preponderance of gas projectiles, to dislocate and paralyse the defenders. But, despite the vital need to maintain the momentum of advance, no attempt was made to create a German tank corps on the British or French model, and both cavalry and supply units were seriously embarrassed by a lack of horses.

Nevertheless, the German Kaiserschlacht (‘Emperor’s Battle’) offensive began in spectacular fashion on 21 March 1918. Between 23 and 25 March Ludendorff was within reach of victory as the outnumbered British Third and Fifth Army began ‘the Great Retreat’. However, Ludendorff’s Teutonic inflexibility and his basic flaws of character and intellect now revealed themselves: the nearness of the Allied front and Allied solidarity to final collapse was not apparent from the reports of his own armies. Above all, the pattern of success on the ground had failed to correspond with the strategic character of the Michael plan, of the three attacking gener­als only Hutier [Eighteenth Army] had achieved the kind of swift, deep advance which Ludendorff had been count­ing on. Yet under the original Michael strategy, Hutier’s role was the subsidiary one of the flank guard. The German success was all on the wrong wing.

If on 23 March 1918, Ludendorff had chosen to throw all his ‘attack’ divisions behind a single thrust by Hutier and the left-wing of Marwitz’s Second Army towards Amiens (‘hinge’ of the Anglo-French front), there is every possibil­ity that an ineradicable wedge could have been driven between the British and French with devastating psycho­logical effects on the defeatist Petain (no longer the indomitable ‘Victor of Verdun’).

Instead Ludendorff waffled and ordered no fewer than three separate thrusts by his three armies. It was all a fatal dispersion of effort, a plan beyond the powers of his rapidly tiring troops. Although Hutier crossed the Somme on a broad front, even he fell 6-10 miles short of his objectives. On 25 March Ludendorff drastically revised his directive of the 23rd, but only succeeded in dissipating his chances of a decisive breakthrough. Only on 28 March (four days too late), did he order an all-out attack on Amiens. By then, the crisis in the Allied command set-up had been overcome, Foch being appointed Supreme Commander.

Throughout April, late May, early June and half of July, Ludendorff continued to ring the changes with another four massive blows, and bellow down the field telephone at his increasingly resentful and frustrated generals. Even so, by June the Allies had lost all they had gained since 1915 and the Germans had reached the River Marne for the second time in the war. But they had nowhere succeeded in permanently breaking the Allied line, while American troops were now in action in ever-increasing numbers. Fifteen US divisions landed in France between April and June 1918.

On 15 July the Germans attacked simultaneously on both sides of Reims (Aisne Salient). East of that constantly bombarded city, they made slight gains. To the west, they crossed the Marne. Foch replied with a massive artillery bombardment followed by a decisive counter-attack (18 July-6 August) spearheaded by swarms of fighters, light bombers and ‘fast’ light Renault FT-17 tanks. Nine American divisions supported powerful French units. In this Second Battle of the Marne, the Germans were forced back to the River Vesle.

On 15 September 1918, Salonika-based British, French, Serb and Greek units attacked the Bulgarian line in Mac­edonia. Bulgarian resistance soon collapsed. The following month Serbia was cleared of Austrian occupation forces and Germany’s Balkan flank lay exposed. The final Austrian offensive against Italy had soon petered out on the Piave (15-25 June 1918). An eleventh hour Allied offensive (Battle of Vittorio Veneto) from 24 October broke initial stubborn resistance and quickly developed into an Austrian rout, accelerated by the ever-increasing disaffection, desertion and mutiny by Serb, Croat, Czech and Polish troops and sailors of the finally disintegrating Imperial armed forces. Austria signed an armistice on 3 November 1918, her non-German subject peoples had already seized independence.

The British General Allenby captured a Turkish army at Megiddo in September and overran Syria. The surrender of the Turkish army on the Tigris followed. The Ottoman Empire signed an armistice on 30 October.
Foch launched a general counter-offensive in September. The tank-led British drove the Germans back 8 miles at Amiens on 8 August and attacked the Hindenburg Line in September. That same month, the Americans stormed the four-year-old Saint Mihiel Salient and Allied armies broke through the Hindenburg Line after 18 days’ continuous battle (26 SEptember – 13 October). During October, an Anglo-French-Belgian army group freed Flanders coast, the British reached the River Scheldt, the French drove east over the Aisne and the Americans down the Meuse to Sedan.

Mutiny gripped the German Fleet in the last days of October and revolution quickly followed in all the main cities. Armistice negotiations, on the basis of US President Wilson’s famous ‘Fourteen Points’ programme, began on 6 November; the Kaiser ‘abdicated’ on 9 November and, on 11 November, the Armistice was signed in Foch’s converted wagon-lit at Compiegne. The Great War had ended after 1,567 days.

Call of War

Diary November 21, 1918

surrender of the German High Seas Fleet

World War One Diary for Thursday, November 21, 1918: Sea War SURRENDER OF GERMAN FLEET TO GRAND FLEET off Firth of Forth; 9 battleships, 5 battlecruisers, 7 cruisers, and 49 destroyers escorted in (taken to Scapa Flow on November 24).… learn more

Diary November 20, 1918

Handover of a German submarine.

World War One Diary for Wednesday, November 20, 1918: Sea War North Sea: Harwich Force meets first 20 U-boats (of 170) to surrender 20 miles off Lowestoft and puts prize crews aboard; German crews sent home in own transport after… learn more

Diary November 19, 1918

The fallen comrade

World War One Diary for Tuesday, November 19, 1918: Home Fronts Britain: Naval censorship abolished. NUR (National Union of Railwaymen) announce withdrawal from War Truce. Government announces over 3 million war casualties including nearly 1 million dead. Italy: Orlando’s speech… learn more

Diary November 18, 1918

Return of German troops over the Rhine bridge near Bonn.

World War One Diary for Monday, November 18, 1918: Western Front BRUSSELS REOCCUPIED BY BELGIANS. Last German troops leave French territory. Retiring Germans blow up munition dump at Beez, east of Namur. Lorraine: AEF enters Longwy and Briey. Eastern Front… learn more

Diary November 17, 1918

Nationalist demonstration in Rome to annex Fiume

World War One Diary for Sunday, November 17, 1918: Politics Yugoslavia: Yugoslav National Council at Agram protests vs Italy occupying Fiume (but General Grazuli ‘persuades’ Serb troops to evacuate on November 19). Serb Government formed at Paris, Pasic Prime Minister.… learn more

Diary November 16, 1918

Marshal Josef Pilsudski

World War One Diary for Saturday, November 16, 1918: Eastern Front POLAND DECLARES INDEPENDENCE: President General Pilsudski, Poles demand Posen’s surrender. Ukraine: ­German evacuation begins. Finland: German troops (4 divisions) leave (until December 16). Rumania: White Russian politicians at Jassy… learn more

Diary November 15, 1918

Londoners celebrated the end of the war

World War One Diary for Friday, November 15, 1918: Western Front Inter-Allied Armistice Commis­sion (IMC) assembles at Spa. General Plumer makes formal entry into Mons. First 2 trainloads of Allied PoWs (1,000 men) reach Calais from Germany. Eastern Front Don:… learn more

Diary November 14, 1918

Hetman Pavel Skovopadski

World War One Diary for Thursday, November 14, 1918: Eastern Front Ukraine: Hetman Skoropadski tries to change sides, but Denikin and Whites reject offer. General Petlyura rebels vs Ukrainian Government. Politics INDEPENDENT CZECHOSLO­VAK REPUBLIC declared at Prague with Masaryk elected… learn more

Diary November 13, 1918

Fiume during the Italian occupation.

World War One Diary for Wednesday, November 13, 1918: Southern Fronts Hungary: Government signs final Central Powers’ armistice at Belgrade, Field Marshal Misic and General Henrys sign for Allies. French Army of Hungary formed (until September 10, 1919). Austria: Italians… learn more

Diary November 12, 1918

Armistice celebrations in Paris.

World War One Diary for Tuesday, November 12, 1918: Home Fronts France: ­Paris celebrates even more enthusiastically (until November 13). Germany: Council of Peoples Commissars abolish Auxiliary Service Law and censorship; declare amnesty, 8 hour day (from January 1, 1919)… learn more

Diary November 11, 1918

Allied Plenipotentiaries at the signing of the Armistice

World War One Diary for Monday, November 11, 1918: Western Front France: ARMISTICE SIGNED in Foch’s wagon lit at Rethondes, Compiegne Forest at 0505 hours, COMES INTO FORCE 1100 HOURS and fighting ceases all along front. Allied line from Selzaete… learn more

Diary November 10, 1918

Kaiser Wilhelm II crossing the border

World War One Diary for Sunday, November 10, 1918: Politics Germany: Kaiser crosses into Holland at Eysdin at about 0700 hours with 70 staff in 11 cars, waits for and reboards imperial train for journey through Liege (Crown Prince follows… learn more

Dairy November 9, 1918

Scheidemann proclaims the German Republic

World War One Diary for Saturday, November 9, 1918: Politics Germany: KAISER ‘ABDICATES’, REVOLUTION IN BERLIN as Scheidemann proclaims German Republic from Reichstag, Prince Max becomes Regent (having announced Kaiser’s ‘abdica­tion’) and Ebert becomes Chancellor. General Groener tells Kaiser at… learn more

Diary November 8, 1918

Arrival of the German armistice delegation

World War One Diary for Friday, November 8, 1918: Western Front France: GERMAN ARMISTICE DELEGATION led by Erzberger SEES FOCH at 0900 hours, refer terms to Berlin 1300 hours. GERMAN SENIOR COMMANDERS UNANI­MOUSL IMPLY TO IMPERIAL CHANCELLOR THAT ARMY CANNOT… learn more

Diary November 7, 1918

revolution at muenich

World War One Diary for Thursday, November 7, 1918: Politics Germany: BAVARIA DECLARED REPUBLIC by Prussian Jew Kurt Eisner at Munich as King Ludwig III flees into Austria (formally deposed November 8, ‘abdicates’ November 16). Switzerland: Yugoslav Conference at Geneva… learn more

Diary November 6, 1918

American soldiers with French FT-17

World War One Diary for Wednesday, November 6, 1918: Western Front Meuse – US 1st DIVISION REACHES SEDAN: traffic halted on key Mezieres­-Montmedy railway; only line to Western Front still available south of Ardennes; 4 German armies are virtually cut… learn more

Diary November 5, 1943

Japanese ships in Rabaul under air strike

WW2 War Diary for Friday, November 5, 1943: Sea War Pacific: 6 Japanese cruisers damaged by US carrier planes at Rabaul. Atlantic: Captain Walker’s 2nd Support Group saves Convoy HX.264 and sinks 2 U-boats. Air War Pacific: F4U Corsairs from… learn more

Diary November 5, 1918

MacArthur 1918

World War One Diary for Tuesday, November 5, 1918: Western Front Sambre – Pursuit after Battle of the Sambre begins: BEF Fourth, Third and First Armies engaged; Mormal Forest cleared. Canadian Corps and 3 British divisions with tanks force river… learn more

Diary November 4, 1918

Demonstrating German sailors

World War One Diary for Monday, November 4, 1918: Sea War Baltic: Enraged by ‘Karlstrasse Bloodbath’ thousands of sailors, 20,000 garrison troops and workers join Kiel mutiny. Crew of battleship Grosser Kuerfuerst overpower their officers and march to Karlstrasse to… learn more

Diary November 3, 1918

Italian cavalry enters Trento

World War One Diary for Sunday, November 3, 1918: Southern Fronts Italian Front: AUSTRIAN ARMISTICE SIGNED AT 1800 HOURS by Generals Weber and Badoglio at Diaz’s Villa Giusti headquarter near Padua. Austrian Army group commanders suspend hostilities from 0330 hours.… learn more